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Be a Structural Architect: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Learn how to become a structural architect. Research the job description and the education and licensing requirements, and find out how to start a career in structural architecture.

Should I Become a Structural Architect?

Structural architects design buildings and other structures, taking into consideration safety, functionality and aesthetics. Duties include meeting with clients, estimating material costs and preparing sketches and contractor documents. Structural architects might work long hours while facing deadlines, however, the expected job outlook between 2012 and 2022 for these professionals is well above average as compared to all other occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Career Requirements

Degree Level A professional degree is required, often a Bachelor of Architecture degree
Degree Field Architecture
Licensure All states require structural architects to be licensed
Experience About three years of internship experience is required to obtain licensure
Key Skills Strong analytical, communication, organizational, visualization and critical-thinking skills, highly creative, experience with architectural tools, proficiency with software for computer-aided design , document and project management, cost estimating and graphic imaging
Salary (2015) $64,656 per year (Median)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET OnLine, www.payscale.com.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Most states require architects to hold at least a bachelor's degree in architecture from a degree program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). Available at architecture schools, universities and colleges, these degree programs usually take five years to complete and are designed for students with no prior training in architecture. Courses may include structural systems, architectural design, building materials, physics and the history of architecture.

Success Tip:

  • Seek enrichment opportunities outside of the classroom. Some architecture programs offer students the opportunity to participate in experience-based learning outside of the classroom. Examples of opportunities that may be offered include mentoring programs, internships, community service opportunities, lectures and field trips.

Step 2: Complete an Internship Program

To become licensed, architecture graduates in all U.S. states are required to complete post-degree internship programs that typically last three years. Most of these programs follow the standards of the Intern Development Program (IDP) instituted by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). According to IDP guidelines, interns must complete 5600 hours of experience in an approved work setting under the supervision of a licensed architect (www.ncarb.org). Internship hours must cover four basic training categories including pre-design, design, practice management and product management. Qualifying internship hours completed during school can be applied to these hours, but additional post-degree training is also necessary to fulfill the requirement.

Success Tip:

  • Sharpen computer skills. Structural architects typically complete design drawings with the use of CAD software rather than drawing by hand. An internship offers the opportunity to gain confidence using this software in real-life situations under the supervision of an experienced professional.

Step 3: Take the Architect Registration Examination

Prospective architects must take the Architect Registration Examination (ARE), which was developed by NCARB. The ARE is designed to test the practical and judgment skills of prospective architects and is administered through state licensing boards. It consists of multiple-choice and graphic vignette questions. The exam is divided into seven parts covering seven topics, some of which include construction documents and services, schematic design, structural systems and building systems. Tests are scored on a pass or fail basis, and candidates must pass all seven sections to be eligible for licensure. Individuals who fail a section of the exam are required to wait six months before retaking it.

Step 4: Obtain Licensure

All structural architects are required to obtain licensure through their states' architectural registration boards. Licensing requirements vary by state but generally include earning an architecture degree, completing an internship program and passing the ARE. Aspiring structural architects should contact their states' boards to determine the specific requirements.

Step 5: Earn Certification

Structural architects can earn voluntarily certification through NCARB, which may make it easier to acquire licensure in other states. While NCARB offers a few processes for earning certification, the standard route is designed for licensed architects who hold a degree from a NAAB-accredited architecture program, who have completed an internship program and who have passed the ARE. Certification is awarded after evaluation of an architect's transcripts, though candidates in some states might be required to sit for a personal interview or additional exam.

Step 6: Keep Licensure Current

In most states, architects must complete a certain number of hours of continuing education to renew their licenses. Specific requirements vary from state to state. Frequency of renewal also varies from once a year to once every five years, depending on the state in which a structural architect works. Architects should research the exact requirements for their states.

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